BEREA, Ohio » Along with being sacked, taunted, embarrassed and generally mistreated Sunday by the Cincinnati Bengals, Johnny Manziel got humbled.
The Browns rookie quarterback said Monday that his first NFL start, a 30-0 loss that essentially eliminated Cleveland from the playoffs, was the toughest day he’s ever had on a football field.
"It’s the first game I’ve ever not scored a point in and been shut out," Manziel said. "I’ve played in a lot of games from high school through college, and that one, and I’ve never been shut out until then. It was definitely tough."
"Absolutely," he said. "Very humbling."
Unable to move Cleveland’s offense, Manziel completed just 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards. He was intercepted twice, chased around like a fox trying to escape hungry hounds and looked lost in the Browns’ biggest game of the season. This wasn’t the debut he, legions of his fans or anyone in Cleveland’s organization had in mind when he was promoted to replace Brian Hoyer after 13 games.
"You just don’t really envision that in your head when you’re good throughout the week and you have a really good week of practice," Manziel said. "You feel really confident and really prepared, and then something like that happens."
The Browns ran just 38 offensive plays, gained 107 total yards, crossed the 50-yard line just once and got only five first downs — two of them via defensive penalties.
The team was bad, Manziel was bad but coach Mike Pettine, whose decision to start Manziel is now being debated as aggressively as his choice to bench Hoyer last week, said the performance doesn’t cast any doubts on his potential to be a franchise quarterback.
"I think it’s too small a sample size," Pettine said. "When you look at how we played around him, I think it’s very unfair to judge what somebody’s career is going to be like off of their first start. I’m sure you could go back and find a lot of regrettable performances in the first start."
Pettine reiterated the Browns (7-7) will stick with Manziel over the final two games against Carolina and Baltimore. The team isn’t viewing it as an audition for Manziel’s future. Pettine said there’s a chance the team could go into the offseason with its quarterback situation unclear because three games isn’t long enough to accurately evaluate any quarterback.
"We’ll have a sense (of Manziel), but I still think there will be question marks," Pettine said. "No matter what happens. We’ll have a sense, but it’s something that I don’t think it’s going to confirm one way or the other the opinion. He could hit it out of the park the next two and there will still be doubts. He could not play very well the next two, there’d be a ton of doubts."
Manziel said watching film of the game wasn’t any better than living through it the first time. The Browns were manhandled by the Bengals from start to finish.
"I don’t think there’s anything from that game getting beat 30-0 that’s going to sit there and make you pump your fist," Manziel said. "But just going through some progressions, I feel like there was just some miscommunications, there were some times we were off, one person was off and it takes all 11 guys to make the whole thing work."
True, but the focus is usually on the one behind center, and Manziel was lambasted by some of his harshest critics.
"I’m not really listening to any outside noise or what anybody else has to say," Manziel said. "I know that I need to play better and if I don’t, people are going to continue to say things like that."
Manziel wasn’t the only who were fed a helping of humility by the Bengals.
"That type of game humbles all of us," Pettine said. "We had been able to do some things in the past that we weren’t able to do. That’s something that — as an organization, coaches, staff and team — we’ve got to regroup, and we’ve got to regroup in a hurry."
NOTES: Pettine said Browns star CB Joe Haden is day-to-day with a bruised shoulder suffered Sunday. … Rookie CB Justin Gilbert left with a head injury, but Pettine said he was not diagnosed with a concussion. … Pettine did not see the Browns fans who stopped Bengals rookie RB Jeremy Hill from jumping into the stands after a touchdown. "He should be commended," Pettine joked.